Monthly Archives: March 2014

“‘Cause if she is…”

Cleaning the apartment took his mind off the girl for ten minutes before he called it quits. Well, ‘cleaning’. He’d merged that pile of trash with that other pile. Not exactly up to Martha Stewart’s standard, but Alex had a lot on his mind.

He just didn’t understand why she came here, and he had his usual stress-rash from thinking about it. That red splotch doubled up on yesterday’s, which never fully healed ‘cause he wouldn’t stop rubbing at it long enough. The last time his guard slipped, Xander had to save him by smashing a rock through their ex-friend’s face. It’d been five years since then, and Alex learned a strict fact of life: people were traps. The itchy bicep, nausea, hand tremors and restlessness were welcome to stay if it meant nobody got the drop on him. The problem now was that he had his rash but not the rest of the symptoms. It felt like a misfired signal – or a sign he’d caught on to the Agents’ new tricks. It’d been six years since his escape. The ‘girl’ might be what they learned –


… Right.

Alex dragged himself to the pizza they eventually agreed on. He’d thought about cooking, but freezer-burned bacon, soggy almonds, old ketchup and eggs that Xander liked the look of but wouldn’t eat could not a good meal make. Considering he sure as hell wasn’t running to buy groceries until the Agent swarms left or been dealt with, delivery became his world again. That put half-Hawaiian, half-barbecue-pepper-onion crust on tonight’s menu. Alex hated cooked fruit so this floated a compromise. He also hated barbecue sauce, peppers, onions and pizza, but Xander liked it and mostly stayed quiet when he got what he yelled for. The system worked. He ate one bite.

So back to being paranoid, he –


Alright, more. He took another bite and went back to –

Relax, Xander snapped. She’s not a damn Agent.

“Oh ree-ree,” he chewed. “An’ hoh do you knoh?”

‘Cause if she is, I’ll break her neck.

It was that simple for him. It must be nice.

“Got proof for someone who cares?” Alex wasn’t a Coke fan either, but the too-sweet gulp washed his food down like any drink. “They’re planning stuff.”

Not news.

“I meant worse stuff.”

Alternatively, Xander said, she’s not an Agent, and you’re crying over some chick you’ll never see again while I starve to death.

Maybe. But he couldn’t risk ignoring this.

Xander made a pissed off noise and went to grab the food himself. Alright. Alex found another slice and numbly ate that, too. It kept the guy away from controlling him.

This girl had access to his building – lived here, let in, didn’t matter. At the most basic level of shenanigans, she could coat his door with plastic explosives or gas them from the vents during the night. Part of him was shocked they hadn’t already. The Frenchman though, the whole three times they’d met face-to-face, promised he wanted Alex alive at first. The Agents seemed convinced Alex’s powers would vanish if he died, and great, they thought his seizure rays sounded cool. It didn’t justify that Xander had killed damn near everybody on the Frenchman’s team. The signs pointed to the Agents judging whether their Alex hunt was still worth it. Building assassins from scratch felt unlikely, but…

“You really think we won’t see her again?”

Put the food in your fucking face –

Okay.” He hated pizza. “Thanff fuh thuh thupport.”

Live in the now, kid, his worse half drawled. She’s not here, she’s not your problem. Quit bitchin’ to me about it.

“You’d care if there was ten of her.”

Which could be true.

Is there ten?

Xander sounded excited. His perfect day spelled fighting strangers, sprinting into ambushes and generally not giving a metric shit that it technically wasn’t his body. Xander loved traps. He looked at them like nifty obstacle courses, so Alex pulled some assurance from the guy’s indifference towards the girl, since it meant she wasn’t fun enough to win his attention.

By that logic, it also meant the girl had non-Agently checked on him.



“You think she’ll come back?”


“That’s not in a bad way,” he said quickly. “I just…” She’d been worried. The girl asked about his face. “I…”

Are you this out of touch with basic human interaction that the first person who doesn’t openly berate you becomes your love interest? Xander crammed pizza down his throat. I’ll brace for the obvious: ‘I hate her, Xander’, ‘now I like her’, ‘oh no, she’s stabbing me in the face with a pen’.


Stress flared through his nerves, and Alex immediately started coughing on an onion. His hand whomped itself against his chest.

“Thanks,” he wheezed. “… So is she?”

Eh. I can name eight worse places to stick a dick. You’re caught up on your shots, right?

“I’m not asking so I can have sex with her.”

Good. Agency women are nuts. I regret fucking the last one. What last one? Delaney. Irish bitch. Big ears. Scratched the hell out’f my back. Your back, whatever.

“She was an Agent?!”

Yeah, dude. Why d’you think I kicked her out after?

“She wanted my skin!” Alex felt sick. “She brought a knife.”

A pen-knife! See? We’re both right. And she didn’t want it all, just a strip off your shoulder. About those shots…

“Stop.” His shoulder throbbed remembering that psycho. He’d burned a lot of effort repressing the night. Good to know it was still in there as vividly as ever. “You need to tell me when you notice this stuff.”

Why? So I can solve a minor inconvenience to the soundtrack of your crying? Fuck that noise.

“I’m in the dark about everything,” he spat. “Everything about my life.”

Honestly, you seem happier that way. And before Alex wholeheartedly called him an asshole, Xander drilled in, You don’t like it? Solve your own problems. But you won’t, ‘cause you can’t, so quit whining. You’ve got it good, all things considered.

What things considered?”

You’re alive? You’re welcome, prick.

Alex scowled at that.

“Don’t act like it’s charity when you do it to pass time.” Alex felt a thrill of giddy agreement from that spot in his head. Asshole. “This is why I’m out of touch. Everybody around me is either insane or too mentally stable to survive. The first thought when a girl walks to my door shouldn’t be, ‘Do I crack her nose or aim for her kneecaps?’ It isn’t healthy.” Especially when Xander’d ruled her out as a danger. “I should have been thinking…”

What did normal people think about?


“Sure. Sort of.” He sighed. “I don’t know.”

Hers weren’t great.

“Shut up, Xander.”

His heart wasn’t in it. He flopped on his bed instead, landing with a whack on the rock-filled mattress and slowly sinking into the lumpy springs. Rest would be smart. His legs could use a break from twitchy wandering.

But what if?

Dammit. A secret third chunk of his mind spun up. There went sleep, because suddenly the scene with her replayed on a loop. After one minute of sifting through piles of too-bright features carved into memory – memory he was supposed to be using to track to people who came uncomfortably close too often – the big decision he came to, based on its hyper analysis, decreed the girl looked… okay.

She’d been wide-eyed when they met, so he did kind of recall two green circles gawking at him. Her chin was normal. Sharp, maybe. Her left nostril had a mark that might be an old piercing or acne. He guessed if he brushed down the rest and softened the freckles on her cheeks, she mostly fit ‘cute’. So… okay, then he wasn’t far off from her. Others said Alex mostly fit ‘cute’, too. Being in shape helped. His shirt had its own freckles out of various blood types, but his jeans smelled clean and that counted.

This is sad or impressively sad. I can’t decide.

“I’m gonna go change my shirt,” he muttered.

It’s eleven.

And he was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. He had a gray shirt somewhere, actually washed. After a struggle from the bed and a walk to his dead dresser, he found it in the bottom drawer.

“Laundry tomorrow.” No rips, no blood, at least not under the window’s moonlight. From his onceover, he low-balled being able to wear this three times, too. “If I say I’m a hipster, can I pretend this is style?” A few beats ticked by. “Xander?”

Hm? Sure.

Alex lowered the shirt. He felt a sting of hairs rising at the back of his neck. The rash itched.

“Everything… good?”

You still want that chair?

“What ch– what the hell, Xander,” he roared. Glass and wood burst from the room. Alex’s last intact piece of furniture, his single remaining seat, had just been ejected through a gaping hole – a hole he called until two seconds ago ‘his rotted window frame’. The crash of shrapnel when it hit the ground four storeys later hinted at how well it landed. “Why? Why?

I’m cleaning. It was clogging the place.

“We were done cleaning!” Alex stuck his head outside and looked. Yeah, he figured. The final semi-nice thing he owned – meanwhile, the wall-crater blended right the fuck in. “Where am I supposed to sit now?”

I dunno, the bed? I’m bored. Let’s go do shit.

Their deposit was gone. Just – completely, ‘cause before, there’d been a shot at scamming part of last month’s rent back. Now – the shock cracked off and his first spark of anger ignited – they were gonna stick him with the full cost of… this. This shitty apartment and spongy floor and perma-stains from a leaky ceiling.

“Tell me,” Alex said, very calm, trying to give some magic benefit of the doubt, “you know carpentry.”

It’s fine. Go outside, you hermit. Get air.

“What, and miss the fix-it gnomes you’ve got headed here to handle this?” Crap – the noise! The neighbours already knew who to blame it on. “The girl’ll come back.” Fuck every minute of his life. “If she’s an Agent, she’s got her excuse to visit twice. No one’ll blame her, and she can cover by saying I died long before she knocked.”

Then go to her first.

“That’s the worst plan!”

Nah. Move.

He lost. His body disappeared from under him. Xander had taken control. As his first act after charging their limbs through the door, the guy switched their shredded white shirt for the gray and left the freckled remains in the hall. They were headed for the stairs.

“You are not finding her,” Alex ordered. His mouth didn’t react. “You don’t even know where she lives!”

That’s a good point. Xander stopped at the pain-in-his-ass stairwell and blasted the entrance open with his foot. Glue or syrup had stuck to it once and forevermore, the bar that should’ve answered to a gentle push needed a savage beating to let anyone leave. It was that or use the elevator. Xander did not enjoy the elevator. I figured if she heard us and doesn’t live up here, the room under ours would be a good start. He led them to the fifth floor. I guess I’ll have to roam the halls and shout until she answers, though.

“Hey, bitch!”

Xander’s words in Alex’s voice, and he rang down the corridor.

Silence echoed. The fifth floor was empty.

I guess we’re knocking. Xander picked up his stroll again. That’s the one.

It looked like the room. Not her room – she could’ve been anywhere – but this was underneath theirs. Morbid curiosity didn’t mix well with Alex’s survival instinct. He saw flashes of her tongue being ripped out, and it wouldn’t take much for that to happen. Xander hadn’t attacked a wrong person before. If he picked up the scent of an Agent…

“Are you sure about this?”

Oh yeah. Trust me. Despite himself, Alex had to. Big smile for me! Deep breath for you.

He felt a little steadier inhaling air, enough to say, “Don’t make a mess if she’s… you know.”


It’s half the fun, so yes, I will.

“Alright, but don’t –”

Shhhhhh. Shut the fuck up, Xander soothed.

And he knocked.


No movement, no noise…

Greaaaat. Nicely done, Bethany. Now she and the crazy-after-all guy were best friends. Some of that old blind luck had stuck around, however: he knew what she looked like, but he didn’t know Beth’s name. Fat chance finding her without it. She could be very sneaky.

“Dumb. Door. Open.” This floor had the worst stairwell. A thick pelt of goop was soaked into the push-bar, gluing it closed until she paid the greasy price and launched herself at it. Three times out of ten, the door peeled free, but unfailingly smeared its gummy mucus on her arm. Centuries ago, someone spilled a stew or something else sticky. Nobody acted surprised that management still hadn’t scraped it up. “Open!”

It did after a long slurp. Beth’s shoulder throbbed. She irritably massaged it and padded down the gray stairs. Thank you, couch, for being home to collapse on face-first. Her lungs burned, her eyes stung, her heart hammered and her stomach slowly hemmed and hawed about uncurling from a knot. She essentially spent that conversation holding her breath, but hooray, she talked to him. She checked it off the mental list. She would’ve liked to have done the same with her art, but she appreciated progress nonetheless.

All right, a tiny bit less.

Beth rolled over on her blanketed couch. She studied the tubes taped to her ceiling. No movement, no noise… She guessed it meant he was resting.

Strange person. She felt bad for him. He might’ve been crazy, but that didn’t stop his wonky relationship – the one she’d effectively ignored for as long as he’d lived here – from flecking her paintings with multi-coloured, acrylic drops of moral guilt. He needed help, probably. He didn’t want help, but that went hand-in-hand with these situations. Yet here she lay, hungry and alert for the first twitch of more, selfishly praying they picked up the pace if she planned on delivering nine finished canvasses.

It hurt. Having his bruises and stammered panic to put to the fights she heard upstairs made Beth feel dirty and exploitative. She never expected to be a creep, building her work on the backs of the less fortunate. Technically, she was the less fortunate. Her creditors thought so. Her parents said so. Jessica plainly danced around the subject but gave Beth a delicate smile and paid for lunch. Rage Against the Rooms didn’t finance gold cars or silver toilets. RAR covered bills: her food, utilities, supplies, taxes – real things. It was called ‘life’, but when someone offered their assistance in surviving it, the right answer was a grateful acceptance. Beggars couldn’t afford to slam doors.

Still… she did feel bad. He’d been so jumpy and off-guard. He didn’t know her; she shouldn’t take the rejection this personally when he had no reason to trust that she’d help. After all, why the sudden interest? Couldn’t she have called the cops months ago? Or now? Had he asked her to in his own stupid joke of a way?

Her phone rang. Perfect timing! Leave it to technology to take her mind off social responsibility.


Beth? It’s Terry. Do you have a minute?

Beth sat up fast enough to pull something in her lower back.

“Terry! I – sure! Absolutely,” she sang. “Anything for my favourite curator!” But, she reminded herself, he shouldn’t want anything except her art and they’d already set an implicit deadline. Two days left. “Ah… everything okay?”

There’s been a bit of an awkward turn, actually.” If memory served, that was British for ‘brace yourself, Beth’. “The exhibition’s fine – no trouble with the venue and the plans are all on schedule.” That translated to ‘I’m about to be your second-favourite curator’. “The artists, meanwhile…” And that was ‘Somebody’s ruining everything, especially RAR’.

Beth swallowed the bile rising against her tongue. It slowed her down in asking him too readily, “Can I help?”

I’m not sure. I hate to cause an inconvenience and I wouldn’t dream of putting you out, but it’s rather pressing.” So began the long-form British for ‘I know damn well how you’re pitching in and your exhibit’s cut unless you do’. “I have to accommodate everyone to the best of what’s available and very little is.

“Terry,” she said, “spill it.”

It’s Edison.” The old man with the moustache made of money. “My great supporter, and the wallet behind the gallery’s bank account.” Terry often also mused ‘a self-stylized eccentric’ when he felt too proper to call the guy ‘a twat’. “He’s done it. He’s bloody gone and done it – that… twat brought in his submission.” Terry did not, apparently, feel too proper right now. “It’s big. Massive! I can’t fit it where I expressly said it had to fit. And I can’t chop the vile thing from the show! Edison will take offence.

“Hobbyists,” she sympathized. “They’re worse when they’re snotty and rich.”

He’s imposing. Even a saint can be a bastard when they’ve got their hands on your crap.” She heard him rub his forehead and groan a mild note of despair. “It’s like you and that neighbour of yours, isn’t it? Beautiful leaves may flow downstream, but so will a torrent of piss.

Sure! Something like that.

“What are you going to do?”

What I am forced to do is clear the area for this alleged model of sexual spirituality,” he explained. “Pop Passion’s been axed. Edison already bought the space from Devan.

Beth choked when Terry gave her the price tag. Devan’s glittery scribbles scored that much? Real estate was a serious market in this industry…

“He wants to buy my spot next,” she realized. “My centre stage.” After she’d starved for it!

No, no. I wouldn’t put the eyesore anywhere near the front. It has its place of glory in the west room. That’s as far as it’ll go.” Oh. Good. Although if Edison paid so much to steal Devan’s cramped corner… “It’s Elated Islands.” Oh God. “Jessica has to go somewhere! She’s said to ring you in case you’re willing to –” Don’t say it, you limey jerk. “– share.

“Ooh. Ah… I dunno.” Beth tsk-tsked. “I’d love to – you know, for Jessica – but I’ve got nine canvasses. They’re a tight fit.” They would be, shortly after she got past the little snag of only having almost seven. “You understand, right?”

Beth, she leapt to help you last summer when Edison trotted up then,” he wheedled. “You said you would pay her back. I heard you. And it would really save my ass, which I might have mentioned is on the line with playing host to a crippled human-half bug statue.” The rest sounded like Terry ranting to himself: “What is he thinking? Why use paper-mâché? The left tit sags!

“I don’t know…”

Bethany,” he wailed, “I’m begging you! Elated Islands is on the bloody pamphlet. I can’t reprint them on this short of notice. You’ll still have the majority wall!

“Nine paintings’ worth?”

Six. Six if the sixth is a small one. Five.


“Why,” she demanded, “can’t Edison buy her out?”

Obviously I tried arranging that.” British for ‘I totally didn’t even think of it’. “We both know Jess isn’t in this for the money.

“I am,” Beth seethed.

Yes,” Terry said, “and it’s why she’s suggested compensation for the trouble. Supposedly, I’m off to charm the old fart into buying whichever pieces this shuffle would displace. That’s the shortest end of the stick in this. You’re welcome, not that I’ve been thanked.” Speaking over her huffs, he tacked on, “It’s a fair deal from your side. I’ll add it to your placard: ‘Has already sold to inspired collectors’.

It must have been the accent, since she actually considered this.

“How much?”

From Edison’s hammy fists?” He gave a sour snort. “I didn’t lead with cash for a reason. He’s stingy. Lucky you, because his definition of a pittance is still well above ours. Interested?

She didn’t want to be. Did he ask anyone else? Terry had thirty artists coming, but naturally Beth was the first to get called. For Jessica. Of freaking course.



What was that?

I don’t mean to hurry you,” her phone crackled, “and while I’d love to listen to silence all evening –

“Terry, no – shh.” Not fighting. Something new. It sounded like… “I have to put you on speaker.” … inspiration. “One second. I need my hands.”

Beth kicked the corner of a half-completed canvas, slamming it away to slap a fresh stretch of fabric into the speckled crime scene’s outline. There it was again, the low rrrrrrrrr! The tubes shuddered in concert from the ceiling. Paint! She had to refill the paint. Where was her chair? Which colours?

Cocoa! A delicately creamy frappe to pair with it. A full-flavoured tate olive because this didn’t call for the harsh shades of anger like before. That noise had to be furniture deliberately organizing. Ooh – ‘organize’! Were they cleaning? She never heard them clean. Tethered Scars? She liked it. Where was her chair?!

I’m not getting in the way, am I? Not bothering you with this trying-to-save-your-exhibit tosh?

“You want me to sell out,” she yelled back. Her phone sat lonely on the couch. “Tell Jess if she’s butting into my space, I decide what she shows. I don’t need her frilly oceans clogging up my desperate wars. I slaved for my series.”

She works hard, too.

“She sells hard,” Beth vented. “She doesn’t create, she doesn’t imagine, and she doesn’t convey. Her paintings might as well be windows for all the point they have in staring at them.”

I like windows! Lots of people do. Ever seen a house go up without them? It’s weird. You get chills.

“Terry,” she warned.

I’ll tell her,” he finally relented. “She’ll be over the moon you said yes to some degree.


“How many does she have room on the wall for?”

Nine minus five.

“Three,” Beth decided, setting the pump. It whirred to life and heartily burped its first tan droplets. Rrrrrrrrrr. A drop landed left of the middle. “Stormy, lighthouse, and the gray fog. Nothing other than them. Terry, be implicit.”

Explicit, I think.

“Well, don’t swear at her,” Beth said. “Not if you don’t have to.”

You’re such an artist, love.” That was British for something she divinely chose not to understand. “Then it’s settled. Three of her paintings, five of yours. It’s manageable. You’d like that cheque, would you? From Edison? I’ll have to ring him, too. Bring the rest of your work to the gallery tomorrow – I need this sorted soon.

She choked again.


Yes, tomorrow morning. We’d all like to sleep in, but chop, chop.

Her heart threw a fit.

“Um… yeah, but… why tomorrow?”

Because he won’t buy a damn thing unless it’s in front of him,” Terry said. “I’d do it tonight, but he doesn’t know yet that he wants to buy whatever you’re around to pawn off. He’s gone until the exhibition after midday, too.

“Okay! Okay. I’ll come in.” Tomorrow. With four pieces ready for sale. “He’s not the sort of guy who displays everything for millionaire parties, is he?”

Please give her the good news that the final paintings she now had to crappily rush would be buried in the garden.

You might explain the paint fades if it’s not left in shade or a dark hall,” Terry wisely advised. “He must be near-blind anyway. Neon orange, Beth! And spots! See it before you go.

“How can I turn that down?” She returned to her seat and scooped the phone to her ear. “Thanks for the warning. Thanks for the cheque too, Ter.”

Thank him. I wouldn’t pay a dime for your drippy, manic messes. You know me.” Beth always could count on him for that. She smiled anyway, especially as Terry went on. “I’m sorry for this. Plans were unfolding too well, I suppose. Be here early and I’ll buy breakfast. We’ll chortle over the odds of a critic knocking Ashley Brendan’s sculpture to rubble again.

“You’re on,” she told him. Free breakfast! They swapped their goodbyes and hung up for the night. Back alone, Beth’s lip found itself between her teeth. She nibbled. “Damn.”

Four by tomorrow, and the rumbling had stopped. Moving her phone from couch to chair, she hiked her overalls to her knees, then gingerly sat and shook the tubes herself. These were finishing one way or the other, but other took a gamble she didn’t have a night to bet. She’d better get started.


“The fuck do you want?”

Alex regretted opening the door before he’d thought up an excuse about the noise. This slid under ‘spectacularly stupid’, seeing how his life depended on those lies. Neighbours were the second greatest threat he faced: crotchety, nosy, dickish, ‘I have work in the morning’, ‘I’ll get the landlord’ types who went out of their way to plan legal surprise parties. The right line got them to leave. Agents never left. It was his best trick for telling the two apart. Now he’d screwed himself, because instead of saying something convincing, he stared at her. Then he kept staring, waiting for his mouth to move.

“The fuck do you want?”

Thanks, Xander.

“Uh – hello, I mean,” Alex said. Sincere. He wanted sincere. “Can I help you?”

“… Yeah…” This was new. The girl looked more uncomfortable than he did. She stood with her hand holding her other shoulder like she was her own security blanket. Maybe it had to do with the staring. “I wanted to…”

Take your time. I could use the rest.

Alex’s hands twitched. Xander, don’t start.

“… visit.”

Oh. Uh… Okay. He waited, but she didn’t elaborate. The normal written complaints and petitions weren’t anywhere he saw, either. This fell far from his element. Alex continued Operation: Cold, Dead Eyes until he clued in to echo her nervous, “‘Visit’?”

That broke the dam: “Ah – sure! You know, because – ah… you live here, and I live here – only I don’t – like – um… live here so… don’t try to come and find me or anything! You won’t! Ha-ha!”

Alex noted the forced giggle.

D’aww, she thinks you’re a mental patient, Xander cooed.

He probably was. He’d wandered in a walking coma for a month after their big Agent-land escape. Six years really flew by since then. And where he used ‘flew’, Alex meant ‘dragged with the agony of carrying an extra voice inside his head’.

“But yes, I –” Right. Her. “I came to visit. I – ah… wanted to say ‘hi’.” She paused. “So… hi, and I will simply be leaving now so – see ya later, gator!”

“Much later,” he swore the girl muttered.

That was weird. That handled itself. Were they done? Where’s my fucking latté?

“Hey, is that it?” She’d already started leaving. Fast. “You’re not here about the fight?”

“Oh, I – oh my God,” she shrieked. Alex leapt back. “Your face!”

That’s what I always tell him!

“You – you look…”

She’d been ten steps away when she turned to reply. From there, she freaked and waved her hands at his head, talking very loudly. Sure – his face, the mirror, the bruises… He figured she was saying he looked bad. She noticed, by the way, ‘cause he’d even more stupidly stepped out there to call to her. He got behind the door and shut it to a crack. Alex didn’t need her glancing inside if that’s how she felt over a swollen cheek. With his track record in catching breaks, the girl worked as a room inspector. Paying extra on his rent only bought so much ‘understanding’, and his deposit had long gone. Thanks, Xander.

This place sucks anyway.

“I’m alright,” Alex promised. “This is nothing.”

“That was your fight?” The girl squinted at him. She didn’t move closer. Neither of those made for good signs. “That was from today?”

“Uh…” What should he tell her? “Yes?”

“Oh my God. Oh my God – I had no idea! Who were you fighting?”

“My…” If he pulled himself together, Alex could spin this to get rid of her. “… roommate?” Yes, that sounded confident.

“What is he, a bear? Is he the one who throws everything? Do you need the hospital? Is he still there?” Suddenly she shot towards him and whispered, “Should I call the cops?” And bring more people? “My phone’s right here. I already had it set to dial 9-1-1.”

“No, it’s…” Wait. “You did? Why?”

“No reason!” She whipped the phone away. “Are you dying? How badly dying? Are you dizzy? You need a doctor. Is this what’s always happening?”

Ignoring the theft of his personal space, he tried to keep track of her questions. Dizzy? Yeah. Now.

“Could you excuse me?” He took the quarter-second silence as an answer. Alex closed his door, slamming the brakes on her interrogation. He flattened his shoulders against it to hold it shut in case… well, in case. “Great. What’s the plan?” Something better than ‘Nice job, genius’, please.

Alex. We have to kill her.

The sweat along his neck turned to ice. A vice caught within his throat.

“We have to kill her,” he croaked, “because she’s an Agent?”

Nah, she’s just gabby. ‘Sides, those shoes with those overalls? Guuurl…

Thanks, Xander. I almost had a fucking heart attack.”

I know. It was funny. What do you want me to do?

“Get rid of her! Non-lethally,” he added. “I don’t want her here. She’s an Agent or she’ll get hurt by the actual Agents chasing me.”

All four of them.

“There’s been more than four,” Alex said.

Not that you’d know since I do all the damn work. And – oh look, guess who’s crawling to me again. He – Save it, Pop-Tart. Next time think before you shout ‘Is That It’. What do I say about gifts and horse mouths?


Yeah, but trust me, it would’ve been extremely relevant.

“Will you just –”

Sorry I can’t hear you I didn’t fucking go to Pequods.

Alex glared at the air.

“You’re the worst split-personality in the world.”

That’s uncalled for. Then from his mouth came a violent shriek of, “He’s eating me!There you go. Now I’m the worst.

This type of crap was so typical, he nearly forgot other ears heard it, too. Xander’s voice had cut past the door. The walls of this building were like paper and – shit, she was gonna call the cops. He grabbed the door and ripped it back open.

“It was a joke,” he swore. “A really, really, really bad joke.”

If I knew ventriloquism, this’d be even funnier.

Shut up, Xander.

The girl gave him a stare similar to the one he’d launched at her first. She lowered her thumb from the green ‘Send’ button and tucked the phone into her pocket. With a weight attached to her tone somewhere between disturbed and personally slighted, she told him, “You said you’re alright.”

“Yes. But,” he answered, “thank you for the visit.” Don’t ever do it again. “So… uh… I have to get back to…”


“Yeah. I mean – renovating. I’ve gotta get to that… fun… stuff.”

Alex tacked on a tight smile. Please go?

“I suppose.” A glint lined her eyes. So her suspicion hadn’t left, and neither had she. The nosy type, he decided. “Renovating, huh? That’s what this was about?”

“We’ve got stylistic differences. I’m more into –” He drew a blank. “…ducks.”


“He’s more of a red guy,” Alex tried to finish.

“You can’t settle on red ducks?”

Red ducks? Ha-ha! Ha-ha… Wow, uh…” Please leave. “I’ll run that by him. Thanks. Thank you.”

God, it’s like watching cows fall off a cliff with you.

“You’re welcome.” She inched farther away, teasing the intent to leave but not quite going because that would’ve been too easy. This leaned dangerously close to ‘Agent’ territory. In his mind, he felt a muted rush of excitement from Xander over the thought. “You’re alone here, aren’t you?” His fear deepened. “It’s only the two of you?” Oh. Oh man. Whew. “You should come out sometime. Things might be easier if you had nearby friends to offer support.”

Okay? She’d loaded ‘support’ with a creepy emphasis.

“Thank you.”

“I’m serious. Everyone deserves a caring place to live, no matter who you’re living with.” She seemed closer. “Friends put things into perspective or help you move on, even if you truly feel like you have to stay here for a reason.” Definitely closer. “People can be reasons. Sometimes, a certain person can be the wrong reason.”

… Agent…?

I think she thinks you’re gay. What?! You shouldn’t’ve said you were renovating. What kind of a straight guy fights over that? No, because Xander said – Forget what I said. Red dicks it is. Dicks of every shade!


Gay ducks, too!

Alex ran a hand through his hair, pulling on the messy strands like that was going to yank him into sanity. With a second smile, tighter than the first – you know how I like itshut the fuck up, Xander!

“Look – thanks for coming by to double-check I wasn’t dead,” Alex said. She blushed. “I’m fine. Sorry about the noise, sorry about the yelling, sorry about my roommate who I have nothing to do with past sharing this crappy apartment, but I have to finish renovating and that means I need to close the door. So for the last time I’m gonna ask: is that it?”

“Yes, but I –”

Thank you.” Slam. “For shit’s sake…”

Amazing. Xander applauded. Like watching gay cows fall off a rainbow. Alex ignored him in favour of sliding to the floor. He stabbed his butt on the morning’s shrapnel but he wanted to sit. Neighbours were awful. You know what I’d’ve done five minutes ago?

“No, but you’re going to tell –”

Not talked to her. There, problem solved. What’s for supper?

Alex tensed as the shock wore off. Who was that? Why did she jump from prepping 9-1-1 to dishing domestic battery advice? It didn’t feel normal. But she left like an Agent wouldn’t, and what did he know about basic interaction anymore? Unless this formed a new angle… Get to him by pretending to not want to? Stupid. The question was whether it seemed stupid enough.

Hey. Pay attention to me. The guy slapped him. I want food.

Alex did, too. More than that though, he wanted this place clean.